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The Family Markowitzby Allegra Goodman
from Fannie Mae
"Esther," Rose calls through her neighbor's closed door, with its blistering paint and the new steel plate around the knob.
"Who is it?" Esther's muffled voice floats back.
"Rose Markowitz." The door opens, and they fall into each other's arms. "How are you dear?" Rose asks. "I thought I heard you last night on the stairs, but I couldn't leave him. Now the woman from the service is here. What business do you have taking a cab so late?"
"Come in, come in," Esther says. "My nephew met me."
"Come in, Rose."
"No, I can't stay."
"Just for a minute. Let me get you some coffee. I've made it already."
"But I really can't stay," Rose says as she walks into Esther's apartment. "I was just going downstairs for the mail." They sit together at the kitchen table and sip coffee from Esther's china teacups. They have lived in the building for twelve years, and their apartments are mirror images of each other.
"I'm speaking Hebrew," Esther tells Rose. "And midaberet ivrit. "
"You took those Hadassah classes?" Rose asks.
"I went on ulpan," Esther says, as if to say she went on safari. Rose thinks that anyone in the room would notice the contrast between Esther, full of energy after six weeks in Miami, and herself, wan and exhausted from staying here in the city all winter with Maury ill and no one to help. Having to do things when she didn't have the strength. Esther is tall, and big in hip and shoulder, her brown hair puffy, although thinning a little in the middle. Rose, who has always been petite, has lost weight — although she is still not thin. Her hair is short, once black and now iron gray. She no longer has time for herself or the beauty parlor. "And who do you think I met on the first day?" Esther asks. "Dr. Mednik's sister."
"He and I," says Rose, "are not on speaking terms."
"No, you are not," Esther agrees. "But it was strange to see the sister there. She looks nothing like him - it only came out later."
Rose stares at the place where Esther's oven should be, except that the apartment is a mirror image.
"And then right after, just a couple of days later, I went to the kids' hotel, where Dougie had his bankers" convention, and I was sitting by the pool and there out of the blue came Beatrice Schwartz with him; he's had surgery? he speaks artificially, you know, with a voice box — but she's still walking around with her fingernails out to here painted white, and the white slacks with the pleats, the knife-edge pleats. They weren't even the only people I saw. I could go on and on. It was just, you know, one small world after another. But I was worried about you, Rose."
"Well," says Rose, "he's very ill."
"But he's in good spirits?"
"Happy as a lark."
"I hope I have such a happy disposition at his age," Esther says. Rose's husband, Maury, is eightythree, ten years older than Rose, fifteen years older than Esther.
"Now, on top of everything, today his daughter is coming."
"We haven't seen her in years, and now she decides to come. "
"I can talk to her in Hebrew," Esther says.
"And she's staying with us," Rose tells Esther. "Here in the apartment."
"For how long?"
"She wouldn't say." Rose lowers her voice to a whisper. "She has an open ticket, and I think that she is determined to stay until, God forbid, the end."
Esther shakes her head.
"What else could she mean by coming now? She has never ever come before."
Copyright© 1997 by Allegra Goodman
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